What happens when a faith community’s decisions to designate leadership conflicts with the discrimination laws of the land?
Two cases headed to the Supreme Court on May 11, 2020, which will help answer that question and may make a major impact on the hiring and employment practices of religious institutions in America. The cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, will call into question who qualifies as “ministers” at religious institutions.
Ministers Lack Unemployment Protections
Ministers do not have the same civil rights protections that the standard American worker has. A 2012 case, Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, was brought before the Supreme Court, and the outcome allowed religious employers to override American anti-discrimination laws for ministers if their religious teachings differed from the broader law of the land.
For example, the USA has laws to prevent discrimination based on gender, but many religious institutions believe that only men can serve as clergy. The court ruled unanimously that religious employers were not held to the same anti-discrimination standards as secular employers. It found that the Constitution’s “Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.” At the time, this decision was uncontroversial. Check out this video to better understand the concepts behind this “ministerial exemption.”
This 2012 case means that people who work as “ministers” lack legal protections that the rest of the American workforce has. The court’s decision allows churches and other religious institutions to hire ministers in accordance with their interpretations of their faith’s theology.
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